These are the opening words of one of the most famous poems in Japanese history, a tanka by Edo era scholar Motoori Norinaga which was later used, among other jingoistic purposes, to fortify the spirits of Japanese kamikaze pilots during World War II. A testament to its power as an enduring instrument of Japanese patriotism, it hangs, written in gorgeous calligraphy, on a scroll in the atrium of the Yushukan war museum on the grounds of the Yasukuni War Shrine in Tokyo.


shikishima no
yamato-gokoro o
hito towaba
asahi ni niou

My best translation is:

If someone inquires
about the Japanese soul
of these Blessed Isles,
say mountain cherry blossoms,
fragrant in the morning sun.

It is no coincidence that the first four kamikaze units ever created were named "Shikishima," "Yamato," "Asahi," and "Yamazakura."

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